April 23, 2009

Matthew Fisher: Civil War troops and high school marching bands

In ArtForum Joseph R. Wolin reports that Matthew Fisher loves a man in a uniform. "His faux-naïf paintings depict soldiers dressed in fanciful costumes and arranged in elaborate tableaux, as if staging narrative allegories. Yet, for all their folk-art charm, their import remains obscure. What might the artist intend, for instance, by the five stiffly posed figures in front of a narrow cottage in 'June,' 2009, two of them inside a birchbark canoe, the others on the lawn? Their diverse garb somewhere between that of Civil War troops and a high school marching band, the unsmiling men stare ahead or askance; one peers through a small telescope. Another in a cockaded hat and tasseled sash sits on the grass in the attitude of the naked lady in Manet’s 'Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe,' 1862–63, a parrot perched on his shoulder and another bird on his finger. A pair of dodos peck at blue and red berries behind a jeweled crown and scepter, while a skull rests between two enigmatic piles of stacked rocks. Certainly, the juxtaposition of extinct birds, men in military finery, and imperial accoutrements calls to mind some sort of cautionary tale about overweening pride and the history of colonialism (did I mention that fire consumes a church in the far distance?), but the story is subsumed by the scene’s oddness and the artist’s obsessive detailing of every blade of grass, every feather, and the wood of the canoe and the unstrung guitar that lies before it.



"Even more cryptic, 'A Thousand Seasons to the Year,' 2009, features seven black hussars around a campfire. A couple in mitered helmets play a fiddle and a saucepan, a man in a blue suit capers like one of Bingham’s jolly flatboat men around his plumed hat, initialed with a W, and a fat officer holds a bunny rabbit and straddles a cask, which leaks its contents from between his legs into a puddle on the ground. This rebuslike, racially charged, moonlit bacchanal feels pregnant with meaning, but the meaning itself is elusive."



"Matthew Fisher: Forever is," Rare, New York, NY. Through May 2.


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